Insurance companies file for FAA exemptions to assist in disaster relief

By The UAS Magazine Staff | November 25, 2014

The United Services Automobile Association and State Farm Insurance are seeking exemptions from the Federal Aviation Administration that would allow the testing of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to be used in catastrophic events.

“State Farm will be evaluating how to utilize unmanned aircraft systems to capture images and to determine the nature and extent of damage to policyholders’ property,” the company said in its filing.“State Farm is specifically interested in studying how unmanned aircraft systems can be deployed to obtain up-close images of a policyholder’s roof and how State Farm can deploy unmanned resources to areas hit by catastrophes.”

State Farm proposed using the Aerialtronics Altura Zenith ATX8 with Airware’s flight control system. Safety features employed could include geofencing, which ensures that UAVs stay within predefined areas, and full suite of contingency management functions, user and flight plan management, and approval functionality.

“State Farm’s use of UAS for roof inspections does not create a hazard to users of the national airspace or the public or pose a threat to national security,” the application says. The company added that UAS operations will be limited to the customer’s property and that property owners will be notified before inspections.

In the filing, State Farm says using the unmanned vehicles would improve safety for State Farms’ claim representatives who must now climb on roofs with ladders to conduct inspections, and would provide faster, more accurate roof damage assessments.

Like State Farm, USAA plans to use unmanned aircraft to remove human life dangers, when surveying disaster areas.

“We’re constantly seeking ways to better serve our members, especially during catastrophes when getting into neighborhoods immediately after can be dangerous to human life, and applying new technologies is one way we can do that,” said Alan Krapf, president of USAA property and casualty insurance group. “USAA already leads a best-in-class claims experience in the insurance industry, and the application of this technology can make us even better.”

USAA has partnered with Robin Murphy at Texas A&M University in College Station, which is a branch of the FAA UAS Texas test site.

“We’ve partnered with Dr. Robin Murphy and her organization called Robotocists Without Boarders,” said Kathleen Swain, USAA property and casualty group staff underwriter and FAA-rated commercial pilot and flight instructor. “We have done research into disaster operations and some search and rescue operations research with her as well.”

USAA is teaming up with PrecisionHawk to use its fixed-wing UAS for research.

The UAS has a 4-foot wingspan and ranges in weight from 3 to 5 pounds depending on the payload. According to PrecisionHawk, the flight time of the UAS is 45 minutes, but because of the vehicle’s design, the battery interchange process can be completed in less than five minutes.

“Right now we can fly about 45 minutes at a time and the battery is completely disconnected so you’re able to swap it in and out,” said Lia Reich, director of public relations for PrecisionHawk. “It’s easy and when the plane comes down, it’s about a five minute turnaround to get that plane back in the air. That was the one thing that we really focused on in this last iteration, was getting that turnaround time as efficient as possible.”